Fascinatin' Rhythm

March 2, 2014

Same script, different cast

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thurulingas @ 12:30 am
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Redshirts cover imageJohn Scalzi: Redshirts

It has been a long time since I read Scalzi, but I was impressed enough by his novel Old Man’s War to pick up its sequels.  Impressed enough by those to grab this effort on a recent book binge, as the premise from the blurb was appealing to the sci-fi geek in me (and I use the term ‘sci-fi’ entirely deliberately, in case anyone should be tempted to write in).

On its face, the book shouldn’t work.  A less-than-mainstream premise, in-jokes aplenty, narrative causality employed as a plot device: it screams B-movie novelisation.  And yet, the whole is somehow more than the sum of its parts.  Partly this is due to Scalzi’s characterisation.  There are moments of genuine pathos in amongst the flummery, and while the action scenes could have been taken from parts of Galaxy Quest which never made it to the big screen, there was a genuine sense of danger for the cast of likeable characters.

The metafiction strands that ran through the novel were perhaps the most interesting.  Who, when all is said and done, isn’t the hero of their own story?  Wouldn’t all of us like a bit of that narrative invincibility and rectitude on occasion?  Ideally, when we actually want it, of course.  The idea that these redshirts have stories of their own, that they are not simply discardable bodies to be flung at a problem in order to work out its parameters so the true heroes can solve it (always in the nick of time, don’t y’know) is one that many authors have played with.  Glen Cook in his Chronicles of the Black Company, and more recently following in his footsteps, Steven Erikson’s massive Malazan series, have both played with the grunt’s-eye-view of events.  

I’m not sure anyone has had as much fun with it as Scalzi, though.  And in the end, a lightweight concept delivers a book that is lightweight, but with the impression of weightier themes lying behind the action for those who want to delve more deeply.  Which is as satisfying a summary as an author could wish for, perhaps.

January 31, 2014

The Kids Are Alright

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thurulingas @ 3:26 pm
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Ender's Game: cover artOrson Scott Card: Ender’s Game

I read Ender’s Game a long, long time ago.  [Sure you don’t want another ‘long’ in there?  Ed.]  In light of the new film coming out, I thought I’d revisit it, and am glad I did, in spite of my misgivings about Card’s politics and homophobia.  But I’ve always divorced any appreciation of an artist’s work from the artist themselves, or there’s not much Wagner I could listen to.

One thing that is plain: Card doesn’t permit his private beliefs to colour his work.  This was evident in other works such as Songmaster, and so it was much easier to appreciate Ender’s Game as a work outside of the politics of any particular person or era.  What is clear, however, is that it remains a work with relevance for today, in how we view children and the military.

It’s an easy book to love.  Ender in particular is almost too easy to root for, his circumstances drawn so as to engage all our sympathies with him, and yet with a streak of ruthlessness that those with small children will I think readily identify as accurate, though perhaps they would hope that their own kids would not go so far.  Could any parent say for certain that they know how violent their kids might be if pushed?  I think that is what makes Ender’s Game such a disturbing read for some adults/parents, as much as Lord Of The Flies, perhaps.  Card has commented on the mail he receives from people being divided strongly into those for whom the story speaks of their own experiences, and those who complain that the depiction of children is unrealistic, to the effect that he believes the latter merely hope that that is the case, as the alternative would be unbearable for them.

The story itself is masterfully interwoven.  The existence of Ender’s siblings and their contrast with him are beautifully realised.  I particularly like the interludes with the commander of the Battle School (Graff) and his superiors/peers as the development of Ender is carefully choreographed and monitored.  The reveal at the end is one of the best in my memory of reading science fiction, and it still packs a punch years later.

To call Ender’s Game a classic is to throw another drop into the ocean of plaudits it has received over the years.  It fully deserves that status.

January 20, 2014

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thurulingas @ 2:45 pm
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On The Steel Breeze: Cover Image

Alastair Reynolds: On The Steel Breeze

I hadn’t really expected Reynolds’s Blue Remembered Earth to get a sequel, but was tolerably pleased when it turned out it he’d gone and done one.  I found the reluctant heroes of the first novel, Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya, engaging and likeable, and the mysteries they unravelled as the book progressed similarly so.

So it was with some disappointment that I opened On The Steel Breeze to discover that much time has elapsed since the events of its predecessor, and the vaunted Akinya family has fallen, if not hugely far, then certainly from its previous position as the premier family of the civilisation of that time.  Geoffrey is gone, and Sunday is in a virtual coma, rousing only occasionally before lapsing back into chasing the illusions of new mathematics that she uncovered.

So the focus shifts to Chiku Akinya, scion of the dynasty, and I placed my trust in Reynolds to deliver another character as much fun to read.  And what does he do.  He only goes and dos a 3-for-1 deal!

Now, the idea of splitting and recombining personalities and memories has been explored by many different authors (Dick, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale; Brin, Kil’n People, Tepper, The True Game, among others).  but the permanent 3-way split, with deliberate transformation of the original so that no identification was subsequently possible, I’ve not seen before.  Chiku was an uncomfortable heroine, somewhat naive in each of her three incarnations, and at least for me her attachments to people never really rang true.  In common with Geoffrey of the earlier novel, she seemed more able to love elephants than people who would love her back.  It’s something of a shame that I came to read the three interleaved stories (of Chikus Red, Yellow, and Green) as mere adjuncts to Eunice’s story, and the struggle between her and the intelligence that is slowly corrupting the Mechanism that ensures the safety and prosperity of the Surveilled World (and what a hideously suggestive euphemism that is).

The book, it’s probably no surprise to reveal, lends itself to yet another sequel, when we will find out how the holoships survive, what happens to Crucible, and how the Surveilled World copes with its new predicament.  If Chiku Red takes on the narrative, she’llhave to become more than she was in this novel, where she was mostly marking time until her actions at the end of the novel.  The interest in any sequel storyline lies, in common with most of Reynolds’s work, outside of the sphere of Earth and the solar system.

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